Hollywood knows nothing about hackers and this is evident in Swordfish. However, it is not primarily a hacker movie and that is one of its saving graces. The plot actually revolves around a multi billion-dollar bank heist of a hidden DEA slush fund that will be used to finance covert anti-terrorist activities. The story unfolds in a strange manner, beginning in the middle, flashing back, and then returning to the present. It opens with Gabriel Shear (John Travolta) the film's enigmatic villain delivering a compelling monologue about Dog Day Afternoon justifying his actions to FBI agent Roberts (Don Cheadle) right before a terrible explosion that becomes suspended in time while the audience gets a full panoramic view of it. This is one of the many action scenes that make Swordfish a thrill to watch, and the special effects are great. After the blast, the movie zooms back to the squalid dwelling of Stanley Jobson (Hugh Jackman), a recently released hacker who sports the Kevin Poulsen look, and who is under the same parole conditions that Poulsen faced, as well. He is not allowed to touch a computer or anything that can connect to one. Enter Ginger (Halle Berry), who attempts to recruit Stanley for a cover project headed by Gabriel. Not wanting to see another prison from the inside, Stanley balks, but Ginger temps him with something he can't resist, the chance to regain custody of his daughter, Holly (Camryn Grimes), who is in the unrelenting grip of alcoholic, porn-star mother.
Stanley agrees and finds himself at gunpoint by Gabriel, forcing him to crack a government system in under a minute. After finally getting in (and getting off) he is offered $10 million dollars for his services (like the government won't notice that) and learns what Gabriel's motivations are. He also learns that Gabriel isn't really Gabriel. In fact, he isn't really anybody. Shearer has changed his name, identity, and face so many times that even he can't keep track himself.
Now here is where Swordfish turns into the one that got away, namely, Halle Berry. The only thing she did well in this movie was look sexy and her entire her role was preposterous. She did bare her breast (reportedly for a nominal fee of $500,000) which served no other purpose in the film but to show that she had mammaries, but nonetheless don't disappoint. However, the scene was poorly placed in the film, even though it was under the guise of tempting Stanley--whose only interest in her was borrowing her car and visiting his daughter.
The computer hacking factor did little more than give Swordfish a technology edge. The computer setup, graphics, and buzzwords sound somewhat credible, but anyone who knows anything about hacking, encryption, or computers in general would find several glaring and comical errors. The director could have done some consulting with geeks to add a bit more realism to the cyber element.
Travolta does a good job as the bad guy in this flick and his casting was a credit to the film, as well as Cheadle, although you wonder if he'd just got a promotion from his old job in Traffic. Still, he plays the cop very well and is quite sensitive to Stanley in his current situation, despite the fact that he was the one who busted him years earlier. Still, Cheadle is one of the few genuine characters of the entire film.
Swordfish is violent, ostentatious, forceful, and makes you think a lot about the possibility of something like a real Operation Swordfish happening. You may find yourself agreeing with Gabriel Shearer's reasoning on why he wants to do what he wants to do. This goes way beyond one man taking the law into his own hands, or mere patriotism. Swordfish is somewhat of a morality tale. Do the means justify the ends and vice versa? Their purpose is crudely noble, and they are heroesque villains.
Swordfish entertains, although don't expect to learn how to hack or see anything cool done with computers in the movie except the F/X. The women are good looking and I would say this is mainly a guy flick, but for the ladies, there is Jackman to look at. If you a computer enthusiast you can get lots of self-entertainment by MST3K'ing this film. To quote Declan McCullagh, "Swordfish is half baked".
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